Top News: Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi on Trial, Adjourned to January 8

The trial of deposed president Mohamed Morsi and fourteen senior Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood leaders started at the Police Academy in New Cairo for defendants charged with incitement to murder and violence at the Ittihadiya presidential palace clashes in December 2012. Morsi had arrived at court earlier than expected on Monday morning, amid security concerns over possible violence by his supporters. During the trial he and seven other suspects reportedly responded to questions by the court. Morsi shouted, “Illegitimate, illegal trial,” claiming he was the legitimate ruler of Egypt and would not accept the validity of court proceedings. The Nile state television channel said the judge had adjourned the hearing until Morsy wore his prison clothes. Another state television channel and radio said the session had been adjourned after the accused disturbed the proceedings by chanting. Morsi will stay at Borg al-Arab prison on the outskirts of the city of Alexandria and the rest of his codefendants will return to Tora prison in south Cairo until proceedings resume on January 8. State television have broadcast images from Monday morning’s chaotic trial. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent , 11/4/2013]


Constitution committee approved fifty articles; Nour agrees to language on sharia
Egypt’s constitutional-amendment committee has approved fifty articles, committee spokesman Mohamed Salmawy said in a statement, as the fifty-member body nears completing the final draft of the national charter. Salmawy said the approved articles have been sent to the ten-member committee of judicial and constitutional experts for review before they are officially adopted by the fifty-member body. He added that the approved articles include legislation on rights and freedoms, most significantly the right to protest, which the constitution stipulates only needs prior notice. The Salafi-oriented Nour Party also announced the end of disputes within Egypt’s constitutional amendment committee relating to sharia articles. Yasser Borhamy, vice-chief of the Salafi Call, said it would agree to stick to a constitutional court explanation of the word “principles” as laid out in the court’s provisions issued in 1985, 1996 and 2002. Borhamy added that an agreement had been reached with al-Azhar to make reference to Islamic sharia rather than “provisions.” [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 11/4/2013]

Minister of Petroleum signs nine agreements with $470m in investments
Minister of Petroleum Sherif Ismail on Thursday signed nine agreements in the natural gas and oil exploration field with $470m in investments, according to a statement from the ministry. The nine agreements, which are the first to be signed since 2010, authorize exploration for petroleum products in Sinai, the Gulf of Suez and the Western and Nubian desert. They were signed with Shell, BICO, Greystone, Petzed, and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC). The agreements also include a $50m contract to drill fifteen wells. Ismail stated that these agreements are the largest in quantity ever made, and along with the previous the twenty-one agreements the ministry had previously approved represent “a positive message and a sign of trust that Egypt is still attracting petroleum investments.” [DNE, 11/3/2013]

US, Egypt try to put brave face on strained ties
The United States and Egypt tried Sunday to put a brave face on their badly frayed ties and committed to restoring a partnership undermined by the military ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president. US Secretary of State John Kerry became the highest-ranking Obama administration official to visit the country since the military toppled Mohammed Morsi in July and cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Kerry said he wanted to express to the Egyptian people “as clearly and as forcefully as I can in no uncertain terms, that the United States is a friend of the people of Egypt, of the country of Egypt, and we are a partner.” He also played down Washington’s suspension just weeks ago of part of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Cairo. “We are committed to work and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government,” Kerry told a joint news conference with Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy, urging “inclusive, free and fair elections.” [Ahram Online, AFP/Egypt Independent, AP, 11/3/2013]


East Libya movement launches government, challenges Tripoli
Leaders of an autonomy movement in eastern Libya declared a regional government on Sunday, challenging the already feeble central government and dealing a symbolic blow to efforts by authorities in Tripoli to end oil production disruption in the oil-rich east. Militias and tribes have blocked oil ports and fields over demands for a greater share of power and oil wealth. A pro-federalist television station showed footage of leaders gathered in Ajdabiya taking an oath at a podium decorated with the Cyrenaican flag. They were joined by tribal militia leader Ibrahim Jathran, former head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, who defected and seized two of the largest ports. [Reuters, Al Jazeera, Libya Herald, 11/3/2013]

Peaceful November 9 protests to call for reelection of GNC
A group of Libyans from different towns and cities across the country have joined together under the banner “November 9 Movement” and are calling for nationwide demonstrations this coming weekend to demand the reelection of the General National Congress (GNC). According to one of the organizers, the purpose of the movement, which is unaligned with any particular party or ideology, is to encourage Libyan citizenry to exercise their right to select or reject the current GNC. The group has two demands: first to reelect the GNC, with the vote to be held on December 24 to coincide with the election of the constitutional drafting committee; and second, for the new-elected GNC to assign a national figure to form “a crisis government.” [Libya Herald, 11/3/2013]

Libyan soldier killed by mine, sixteen people wounded in jail battle: sources
In two separate incidents over the weekend, a soldier was killed by a mine in Benghazi and sixteen people were wounded in clashes at a prison, according to security sources. In the first event, a mine hidden in a trash bag exploded near an army checkpoint in Benghazi, killing one soldier and wounding another. And, early Sunday, in Benghazi’s largest prison Kuafiya, inmates overwhelmed a guard and stole his keys, later clashing with guards trying to restore order. Meanwhile, people gathered outside a hotel calling on local residents of the violence-ridden city to take action after yet another officer was killed in a car bomb, which also claimed the lives of his family. [Reuters, 11/3/2013]

GNC disbands the Libyan Revolutionaries’ Operations Room
After tense debate, the General National Congress (GNC) voted to disband the Libyan Revolutionaries’ Operations Rooms (LROR), which was involved in last month’s brief abduction of Prime Minister Ali Zidan. Seventy members voted to withdraw the entity’s mandate to secure Tripoli. This could be interpreted as a check on GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain, who, during the televised proceedings, said the LROR had been established after consultation with Zidan and the ministers of defense and interior since the government agreed it did not have the resources to secure the capital. The GNC’s next debate is expected to address what will happen to the LROR and who will take over its duties. [Libya Herald, 11/3/2013]


Opposition lays preconditions for peace talks
The Syrian opposition set terms on Sunday for attending peace talks to end the Syrian civil war, in a move that throws the proposed conference into further confusion after the international envoy said there should be no preconditions. Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba said the opposition would not attend unless there was a clear timeframe for President Bashar al-Assad to leave power. He also said they could not accept the presence of Iran. On Monday the Arab League officially endorsed the peace conference and urged the opposition to attend. As the proposed date for Geneva II approaches, the Kurdish opposition, which recently has made military advances in the north, remains politically divided. [Reuters, Daily Star, 11/4/2013]

Rebel leader in Aleppo quits
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander who led a massive July 2012 assault on Aleppo resigned Sunday, accusing both Syria “warlords” and the international community of “conspiring” against the people. Activists and rebels have long blamed internal disputes and the international community’s failure to supply the opposition with advanced weaponry for the sustained stalemate, which has resulted in the destruction of much of the city. In his video statement Okaidi pointed to the rebel loss on Friday of Sfeira, a strategic town southeast of the city, and said the “blessed revolution” against President Bashar Assad “has torn off the last mask on the face of the international community,” which is “conspiring against this people and against this revolution.” Okaidi also lashed out at the exiled opposition, “who represent no one but yourselves. You have turned your backs on [Syria] and you have detached yourselves from it completely.” Okaidi also criticized some rebel leaders on the ground, whom he referred to as “warlords.” [Naharnet, Daily Star, 11/4/2013]

Syrian army and its foreign allies push into southern Damascus
Syrian army and Shia fighters attacked Sunni rebel areas in southern Damascus on Sunday in an offensive aimed at breaking resistance to President Bashar al-Assad around the capital. Militia from Iran and Iraq and the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, who overran two southern suburbs last month, are looking to build up their advances by capturing opposition districts closer to the center of Damascus. Fighters from the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State for Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have joined Islamist rebel brigades and Free Syrian Army units in close quarters fighting around the district of Hajar al-Aswad, which is mainly inhabited by refugees from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. A local activist said the bombardment was the heaviest since the uprising erupted in March 2011. [Reuters, Daily Star, 11/3/2013]

Stick figures and stunted growth as warring Syria goes hungry
Across Syria, a country that long prided itself on providing affordable food to its people, international and domestic efforts to ensure basic sustenance amid the chaos of war appear to be failing. Millions are going hungry to varying degrees, and there is growing evidence that acute malnutrition is contributing to relatively small but increasing numbers of deaths, especially among small children, the wounded, and the sick. Aid workers say that Syrian refugee children are arriving in northern Lebanon thin and stunted, and that suspected malnutrition cases are surfacing from rebel-held areas in northern Syria to government-held suburbs south of Damascus. [NYT, 11/2/2013]

Massacre reported near Homs, Islamist and FSA fighters implicated
Forty-five civilians, including fifteen women, were found dead in the town of Sadad, southwest of Homs. The victims were killed between October 21 and 28, a period when fighters from al-Nusra Front, ISIS, and several rebel battalions were in the town. [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 11/2/2013]


Leaders fail to choose prime minister, deadline extended
Tunisian political leaders are to meet again Monday in a new bid to choose a prime minister after missing two deadlines to bridge their differences and resolve months of deadlock. Politicians said the leaders have been unable to decide between two candidates: opposition-backed Mohammad Ennaceur, and Ahmed Mestiri, supported by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its allies. The Popular Front and Nidaa Tounes party chiefs issued statements saying that the Ennahda-led coalition’s insistence on its candidate caused the deadlock in negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 11/4/2013]

Marzouki extends state of emergency through June 2014
Interim President Moncef Marzouki on Sunday extended a state of emergency in place since Tunisia’s 2011 uprising, as politicians remained deadlocked in talks to choose a new premier at a time of rising Islamist unrest. The presidency said it was extending until end of June the state of emergency, which has been renewed by periods ranging from one to three months over the past year and a half. It did not explain the decision nor why the measure was extended by a full eight months. [AFP/Al Arabiya, 11/3/2013]

Plenary sessions on adoption of constitution to begin next week
The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) will begin plenary sessions dedicated to the adoption of a constitution next week, in line with the roadmap agreement created to end months of political deadlock, the NCA said in a statement on Saturday. On Friday, the prime minister’s office released a statement saying that Tunisia has officially applied to join the Open Government Partnership initiative, and is making efforts to meet the criteria of transparency required to join. [TAP, 11/2/2013]

Tunisia press seeks protection
Attacks against Tunisian journalists are on the rise, according to a report released last week by the Tunis Center for Press Freedom (CTLP). The report states that some 325 workers from the media sector have been subject to attacks in the past year. Complaints from journalists were compiled by the Tunisian Observatory for the Freedom of the Press and used to document the report, which also claimed that violators went unpunished. Death threats against the opposition, especially journalists, had intensified since the October 2011 elections, journalist and CTLP researcher Khawla Chabbah said. [Magharebia, 11/1/2013]


Ceasefire reached in Dammaj after more than one hundred killed
Amid conflicting reports, the Yemeni state news agency SABA announced on Monday that UN envoy Jamal Benomar brokered a cease-fire between the Houthis and the Salafis in Dammaj in the Saada province. SABA also reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was finally granted access to the area to provide medical services and airlift the most critically wounded to Sana’a after two weeks of attempts to enter. Upon the announcement of the ceasefire, Benomar stressed the importance of the dialogue as a means to solve problems. Despite the announcement, spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC, Mohammed Albasha, reports continued shelling in Dammaj on Monday. Meanwhile, the Saada issue working group in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) is scheduled to finish its discussions on Monday and vote on a final report. [AP, 11/2/2013; Al Masdar (Arabic), Al Tagheer (Arabic), NDC, 11/3/2013; Reuters, Saba News (Arabic), 11/4/2013]

8+8 committee meeting postponed
Secretary general of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) Ahmed bin Mubarak announced the the Southern Issue subcommittee would convene again on Saturday to discuss solutions under the supervision of UN envoy Jamal Benomar. The announcement comes after representatives of the Southern Hirak reportedly ended their boycott of dialogue sessions, demanding the Southern Issue be addressed in the NDC. On Sunday, Mareb Press reported that the committee meeting was postponed to next Monday, as both Hirak and General People’s Congress (GPC) representatives were absent from Saturday’s meeting. GPC representatives said they did not attend the meeting because the discussions threatened Yemen’s unity. The website of the NDC published an interview with Bin Mubarak about the Southern Issue, in which he expressed optimism about the resolution of the Southern Issue question. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/1/2013; Mareb Press (Arabic), 11/3/2013]

NDC discusses report on army and security forces
The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) third plenary session heard the final report of the Military and Security Working Group on Sunday, including the report’s constitutional specifics to build, professionalize, and neutralize military and security forces. The report addressed the dismissal of Southern military and security forces after the 1994 civil war, and the dismissal of forces following the six wars between the Salafis and the Houthis in Saada. The working group’s report also aimed to encourage women to join military, security, and intelligence institutions, to improve the quality of life for members of the forces, and to better care for injured soldiers and their families. It also called for the reform of some military laws, including the terms of military service and retirement. [Mareb Press (Arabic), NDC, 11/3/2013]

Saudi Arabia to deport thousands of foreign laborers
On Monday, Saudi Arabia will begin to deport thousands of foreign workers who are violating the country’s labor laws. The government promised to raid businesses to catch expatriates whose visas are invalid because they are no longer working for the companies that sponsored their entry into the kingdom. The policy is expected to affect large numbers of Yemenis who work in Saudi Arabia and send money to their families in Yemen, playing an important role in Yemen’s economy. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Gulf News, Al Tagheer (Arabic), 11/3/2013]


Bahrain charges opposition leader with ‘insults’
Ali Salman, the head of Bahrain’s main opposition group, the Shiite bloc al-Wefaq, was charged Sunday with insulting authorities through an exhibition that showed alleged abuses against anti-government protesters. It’s unclear whether Salman will face trial, which could touch off  clashes in the Gulf state. Prosecutors have the option of not bringing the case to court. Al-Wefaq’s lawyer said Salman was not jailed after being charged and was allowed to return home following questioning. [AP, 11/3/2013]

Jordan king calls for reform as opposition simmers
Jordan’s King Abdullah II promised lawmakers Sunday to speed up reforms slowed by unrest across the Middle East, though the kingdom’s weakened opposition accused him of finding excuses to hold onto the monarchy’s absolute power. Abdullah told parliament’s opening session that he will press ahead with plans to amend election laws the opposition says favor pro-palace candidates and overhaul a public sector widely seen as rife with corruption and nepotism. [AP/Ahram Online, 11/3/2013]

Algerian consulate in Morocco attacked by mob
A Moroccan man climbed on top of the Algerian Consulate in Casablanca on Friday and tore down its flag while an angry mob demonstrated outside, witnesses said. The incident worsened the deteriorating relations between the two North African countries. Morocco’s ambassador to Algiers is to resume work on Monday, after having been recalled in a spat over disputed Western Sahara, a senior Moroccan official said. “The ambassador has arrived in Algeria and he will resume his duties (Monday),” the official said on Sunday. He stressed the envoy had only been recalled for consultations and not withdrawn. [AP/ABC News 11/1/2013]

Author Yasmina Khadra to run for Algerian president
Author Yasmina Khadra said on Saturday that he plans to run as an independent candidate in Algeria’s April 2014 presidential election. “It’s official. I am a candidate for the 2014 presidential election,” he said. He is the winner of several international awards for his novels and currently heads the Algerian Cultural Center in Paris. Khadra insisted he would run as an independent, having to collect signatures, but did not expand on a program. [AFP, 11/2/2013]

Image: Deposed president Mohammed Morsi being transferred to court hearing. (Photo: Screenshot from Egyptian state television)